On Digital Reminders of Painful Memories →

Lauren Goode has published an amazing piece at Wired about calling off her wedding, yet being reminded about it over and over from algorithm-powered services from Facebook, Pinterest and even Apple:

I still have a photograph of the breakfast I made the morning I ended an eight-year relationship and canceled a wedding. It was an unremarkable breakfast—a fried egg—but it is now digitally fossilized in a floral dish we moved with us when we left New York and headed west. I don’t know why I took the photo, except, well, I do: I had fallen into the reflexive habit of taking photos of everything.

This column really hit me hard.

Over the last several years, I’ve been dealing with something similar. While not a broken engagement, I’ve been stopped in my tracks any time I come across — or am shown by a computer — photos of the time before our oldest son was diagnosed with brain cancer. When a photo would show up, I would tell my phone I didn’t want to be reminded of it anymore, but it would still be burned into my brain hours or even days later.

That diagnosis came when he turned six months old, but in photos leading up to it, I can see the symptoms clearly. His head is often turned to the side. He can’t quite lift his eyes to meet the camera.

Of course, back then, we didn’t know these were signs of something life-threatening. In fact, we didn’t know enough about the world of neurology to notice them at all. The truth is, no normal parents would have seen them.

Like the slow-growing fractures in a doomed relationship, these symptoms were subtle and hard to detect until one day they weren’t, and he was suddenly having an MRI.

When the Photos app creates a memory with one of those pre-diagnosis photos, it hits me like a train. I feel guilt and shame that we didn’t see things sooner. I focus on those feelings rather than the good. The truth is that his cancer was caught, he underwent life-saving treatment at St. Jude and today he is 12 years old and doing well.

However, I’d rather sink into the misery of the past than feel the warmth of hope and thankfulness here in the present.

At the end of 2019, I knew this was a problem that needed addressing. I felt chained to the past, unable to move forward. It was like a weight threatening to pull me under and to be perfectly honest, I would have been okay with that outcome most days. I was barely treading water, and I needed help. I saw my doctor and restarted medication, and have been working on dealing with these issues in the safe bounds of therapy, armed with a PTSD diagnosis. Some weeks it feels like I’m digging through wet sand, watching it slump back into the pit, but progress is being made thanks to many people in my life.

I share this to say this: if you like me have memories that you can’t move past, there’s hope. The darkness doesn’t have to win.